The Other Place: Research

The main aim of the collaboration is to bring academic criticism and scholarship together with creative experiment in order to make something new - something which opens up fresh possibilities for both theatre-making and academic research. 

Radical MischiefRadical Mischief conference. Photo by Sam Allard © RSC

Research is at the heart of our collaboration with Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).  Each year students and members of academic staff join RSC artists in creative and critical discourse. Through this unique process, The Other Place has become a laboratory for artists working together with scholars and students in experiments that aim to benefit the theatre, the University and society at large.

Recent research activities include:

  • Shakespeare Institute students working with RSC Movement Director Ayse Tashkiran to explore the provocation: How can performance and scholarship get closer to and illuminate the violence of our times (including non-physical violence, silencing, the everyday violence of ideology)?
  • Student participation in Radical Empathy in the Democratic Process, a professional Research and Development project led by RSC Deputy Artistic Director Erica Whyman, Playwright Chris Thorpe and Actor Lucy Ellinson
  • Academics and postgraduate students from the School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies contributing to a sandpit event, curated by RSC artists Gemma Brockis and Wendy Hubbard, which explored the interregnum, as part of the Research and Development for their production Kingdom Come (The Other Place, 2017)

Staff-led research: 'The Marina Project'

Led by Professor Ewan Fernie, Chair of Shakespeare Studies and Fellow at the Shakespeare Institute.

Together with RSC director Richard Twyman, who has previously done theatre work in Syria and ‘Le Jongle’ refugee camp in Calais, Ewan Fernie and Katharine Craik (Oxford Brookes) are developing Marina, a response to Shakespeare’s little-performed Pericles. This new work epitomises the collaboration’s vision of integrating the creative with the academic to forge a new kind of theatre. 

The working synopsis

Fleeing to Europe in search of opportunity and escape from a precarious situation in their homeland, Marina and her parents, Pericles and Thaisa, are separated and scattered across the globe before winding up on the same street, Narrow Way, in Seven Sisters, London.

Adopted by a displaced Syrian businessman named Antioch, Marina had been adjusting well to life in the UK until she was suddenly and mysteriously trafficked into sexual slavery in the Seven Sisters brothel on Narrow Way. What ensues is a compelling story of self-discovery, physical and mental suffering, and a tumultuous family reunion.  At the heart of it all is Marina’s own ‘radical chastity’ and the challenge it presents to everyone she encounters, and to English culture more broadly.

Marina came about through the desire to explore the themes of grief and music in Pericles, as well as exploring the significance of Marina to the original play.  As it developed the project became more and more about reimagining Shakespeare’s work to be more powerful and pertinent in today’s society. The work is centred on the concept of ‘radical chastity’, which ‘rejects the given forms of life and love in the hope of something better’, and explores how ‘the very thing [chastity] that so often secures an oppressive patriarchy might offer grounds for resistance’ (Fernie & Craik). Far from being the mere remnant of bygone superstitions, chastity remains an important issue in our culture to this day, for example, within our own families. It is also the most visible point of cultural difference between the West and other societies, particularly those in the Middle East, a fact which cannot be ignored in the context of Pericles’ geographic setting. 

During the time of writing, the global migrant crisis also exploded, and the writers saw the opportunity to start a dialogue on the issue; Pericles, after all, is about a Middle Eastern family scattered by environmental turmoil and political persecution. Marina aims to ‘explore how intimate forms of disconnectedness are mirrored and refracted through political exile and geographical segregation, and vice versa’ (Fernie & Craik).

The process

In April, this work-in-progress was put through its paces in an intensive six-day research and development workshop. This event involved a cast of actors from a range of backgrounds and perspectives, which resulted in lively engagement on political, personal and theatrical levels, continuing the process of research. The workshop was led by Richard Twyman, Ewan Fernie and Katharine Craik, and also involved theatre practitioners and academics with expertise ranging from stage management to depression to the migration crisis. This workshop offered a unique opportunity to continue developing the play through an ‘incredibly intense and productive process of research’ (Fernie). At the start of the six-day process, the play consisted of a synopsis and several scenes; at the end, the play was set more securely in the present, and Marina was a more central and powerful protagonist.

Professor Ewan Fernie described the experience: ‘[The workshop] was challenging and enriching, and the power of this concerted cross-institutional collaboration was a real eye-opener – it was thrilling.’

The future

Marina is now in development with the RSC, and further work is planned around documenting this collaborative approach to theatre-making and research.  Fernie and Craik are writing about the project for a new book published by the Arden Shakespeare imprint and appropriately titled New Places: Shakespeare and Civic Creativity.

PhD research project: New Work at the RSC

Congratulations to Mary Davis, who has been awarded the RSC/UoB The Other Place PhD Scholarship.

The Other Place student perspective: Mary Davies

Her proposed title is ‘What are the Royal Shakespeare Company’s intentions in developing new work, and how does their collaboration with the University of Birmingham contribute to their aims for radical innovation?’ and will be jointly supervised between members of the University of Birmingham and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Her project will explore the intentions behind the collaboration between the Royal Shakespeare Company and the University in developing new work. The project aims to consider the objectives for creating radical work that provoke new theatre makers, considering what it means to be ‘radical’ in terms of developing new work today. She aims to highlight the relationship between research and artistic practice in order to develop new work, and  wants to demonstrate how the reciprocity of this relationship between academia and contemporary practice is mutually beneficial to creative staff at the RSC and to students and academics at the University.

Mary will make a creative contribution to the collaboration in terms of developing and advancing its intellectual agenda and bringing it to wider attention in diverse academic and artistic communities. She will benefit from close involvement in the cross-institutional research culture involving the RSC, the University of Birmingham and its Shakespeare Institute and will play a significant role in the major collaboration conference planned for 2018.

PhD research project: Cutting Shakespeare

Congratulations to Juliano Zaffino who has been awarded an M3C Collaborative Doctoral Award in ‘Cutting Shakespeare’.

Jay Zaffino: Cutting Shakespeare

Jay began in September 2018 and is co-supervised by Dr Abigail Rokison-Woodall and RSC Higher Education Programme Developer Dr Daisy Murray.

Radical Mischief conference

On 20 and 21 July 2018, the University of Birmingham and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) co-hosted an international conference, ‘Radical Mischief: A Conference Inviting Experiment in Theatre, Thought and Politics’. The rationale for this unique event, attended by over 200 members of the cultural and higher education sectors, was that genuinely innovative theatre and academic debate have the potential to model change, thoughtfulness, and even a new democracy within our wider political culture.

‘Radical Mischief’ invited participants to come together and address the most important issues of our time in inter-disciplinary and sector-crossing conversation, experimenting with the traditional conference form, in order to facilitate and maximise conferring. The conference featured no uninterrupted, pre-written papers. Instead, each day, it hosted a provocative plenary conversation between high-profile figures with challenging views.

The conference then curated a series of focused conversations in different formats, led by artists and scholars. The provocations for these conversations broached a range of subjects, which included: race, religion, institutions, art, form, gender, violence, democracy, and difficulty and the public sphere. Each day finished with an Open Space session, in which delegates were able to propose conversation topics of their own. 

Hosted by Erica Whyman (Deputy Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company) and Ewan Fernie (Chair, Professor and Fellow of the Shakespeare Institute), ‘Radical Mischief’ featured an exciting mix of scholars, artists and journalists, in addition to the keynote speakers: Professor Jonathan Dollimore (Philosopher and social theorist); Emma Rice (Artistic Director for Wise Children); Professor Dympna Callaghan (William Safire Professor of Modern Letters, Syracuse University); Juliet Gilkes Romero (Journalist and Playwright); Charlotte Josephine (Actor and Playwright); and Professor Sir Roger Scruton (Writer and Philosopher).

It also provided the opportunity to showcase the University of Birmingham/Royal Shakespeare Company collaboration and encourage similar forms of collaboration between academics and artists.

Feedback from attendees:

I feel unbelievably inspired and courageous after that conference - I felt throughout that I already knew everything I was hearing (i.e. the information, the facts), but somehow the space you [Ewan Fernie] and Erica managed to carve out made me feel compelled to digest that information differently and allow it to transform my thinking and my practice (like any great performance art!). It was exactly what was needed here in Stratford, so thanks for all of your hard work!

Thank you for the best conference experience I have yet had. This conference has the potential to truly be radical, to uproot the current status of Shakespeare conferences and to blend the academic with practice in a way which, I believe, both crave, and which will ultimately benefit both fields.

If it’s true that the best conversations at conferences happen in the coffee breaks, then Radical Mischief was one long coffee break. The atmosphere was one of creativity and collegiality. The open space forum was embraced fully and an exciting agenda emerged which, rather unusually, focused on tangible, real-world outcomes.

 

Erica Whyman by Topher McGrillis

“ The Other Place is a precious space for the development of new theatrical ideas, so to be collaborating with the Shakespeare Institute and the wider University of Birmingham will allow us to explore more widely, question more deeply and draw on the instincts and expertise of our academic colleagues. We hope that by working alongside contemporary theatre artists – actors, directors, designers – who are in the process of creating new theatre in Shakespeare’s daring spirit, that University students and staff will have a rare opportunity to explore the full meaning and potential of research through practice. ”

“ In any given year, the RSC is working with around 60 theatre practitioners, developing new pieces for production on one of our stages, or simply exploring an innovative idea or approach. This work keeps the RSC alive to contemporary practice, ensures maximum creativity and relevance in staging Shakespeare or early modern authors for an audience today, and develops new plays and new theatre which reflect the concerns of our own world with the theatrical boldness we imagine Shakespeare would insist upon, were he alive today. ”

Erica Whyman, Deputy Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company